Watershed Surveys and Planning

The Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act, Public Law 83-566, established the Watershed Program (16 U.S.C.


Section 6 of the Act provided for the establishment of the River Basin Surveys and Investigation Program (16 U.S.C.


A separate appropriation
funded these two programs until fiscal year 1996 when they were combined into a single appropriation, Watershed Surveys and Planning.

Public Law 83-566 provides the authority for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to cooperate with other Federal, State, and local agencies in making investigations and surveys of river basins as a basis for the development of coordinated water resource programs.

River basin surveys and floodplain management studies provide local decision-makers with an inventory and analysis of the resource status and trends in their watershed, and the impact this has on the community.

It provides them with valuable information allowing them to better understand the cause and effect relationships of changes taking place in their watersheds and communities.

Authorities include cooperative river basin studies, floodplain management studies, flood insurance studies, and interagency coordination and program formulation.

Reports of the investigations and surveys serve as guides for the development of water, land, and related resources in agricultural, rural, and urban areas within upstream watershed settings.

They also serve as a basis for coordination with major river systems and other phases of water resource management and development.

Public Law 83-566 also provides for watershed planning activities that are needed to conserve, distribute, develop, protect, restore, and use water.

In watershed planning work, NRCS assists sponsoring local organizations develop plans on watersheds.

The plans describe water quality, flooding, water and land management, and sedimentation problems and propose alternative conservation land treatments to conserve and protect land and related resources.

These watershed plans form the basis for installing needed works of improvement and include estimated benefits and costs, cost-sharing, operation and maintenance arrangements, and other information necessary to justify the need for Federal assistance in carrying out the plan.
Related Programs

Examples of Funded Projects

(1) Dunloup Creek Watershed, Fayette and Raleigh Counties, West Virginia, is well known for its extensively documented flooding problems.

In the aftermath of devastating floods in 2001, NRCS was asked to find a solution to the problem.

As a result of extensive investigations, it was revealed that traditional structural measures, such as impoundments, levees, and channel modification, do not effectively reduce flooding.

An alternative solution was developed, with active participation by the community, which recommended a voluntary floodplain buyout for an estimated 238 properties.

Participating eligible properties would be demolished and the floodplain returned to natural conditions.

While non-residential properties exist in the floodplain and are eligible, emphasis will be to purchase occupied residences.

Benefits of the project include reduced flood damages, increased human health and safety, better vector control, improved water quality, and improved air quality.

(2) In Tobesofkee Creek Watershed, Bibb County, Georgia, landowners and other interested individuals in the watershed participated in identifying natural resource concerns, including poor water quality, sedimentation in streams and ponds, inadequate supplies of good quality water for livestock, excessive cropland erosion, and poor pasture quality.

An interagency interdisciplinary team, led by NRCS, determined a number of sources causing the resource problems.

Five alternative watershed plans were developed: a No Action Plan, a Minimum Action Plan, a Moderate Action Plan, a Resource Protection Plan, and a Recommended Plan.

The Recommended Plan was eventually adopted, which will address nutrient waste, air, soil, aquatic vegetation, and water quality, and quantity concerns on 38 animal waste management systems plus land treatment of 13,797 acres of eroding cropland and pastureland.

Agency - Department of Agriculture

Established in 1862, the Department of Agriculture serves all Americans through anti-hunger efforts, stewardship of nearly 200 million acres of national forest and rangelands, and through product safety and conservation efforts. The USDA opens markets for American farmers and ranchers and provides food for needy people around the world.

Office - For list of NRCS State offices with telephone numbers and addresses, see Appendix IV of the Catalog.

Program Accomplishments

USDA has cooperated with local, State, and concerned Federal agencies in the preparation and updating of State water resource plans and other water, land, and related studies for floodplain management and flood prevention. There have been over 1,670 watershed plans and 550 flood insurance studies, 620 floodplain management studies (detailed studies), 460 cooperative river basin studies (broad based studies), and 230 resource plans completed under this program since it was authorized in 1954.

Uses and Use Restrictions

Technical assistance is provided to sponsoring organizations for planning activities to help solve water and related land resources problems.

It is available through disciplines such as engineering, economics, social sciences, agronomy, range management, forestry, biology, hydrology, archaeology, landscape architecture, waste management, recreation, etc.

Eligibility Requirements

Applicant Eligibility

Any local or State water resource agency or other Federal agency concerned with water and related land resource development, counties, municipalities, town or township, soil and water conservation district, flood prevention or flood control district, Indian tribe or tribal organization or nonprofit organization.

USDA participation is based on a cooperative effort with a sponsoring organization(s).

State and local agencies are expected to participate in the studies and to fund their own activities.

This program is also available in Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Mariana Islands and the Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands.

Beneficiary Eligibility

Any local or State water resource agency or other Federal agency concerned with water and related land resource development that can benefit from the development of alternative plans and recommendations.


Requests for assistance must designate the proposed study area, describe the basic planning and/or study objective, and indicate joint participation and be signed and attested to by all applicants.

Aplication and Award Process

Preapplication Coordination


This program is excluded from coverage under E.O.


Application Procedures

Application materials and information are available in all NRCS offices. This program is excluded from coverage under OMB Circular No. A-110. The letter of request addressed to the appropriate State Conservationist of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Award Procedures

Not applicable.




Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act, Public Law 83-566 (PL-566), 68 Stat. 666, as amended: Public Law 84-1018, 70 Stat. 1088; Public Law 85-624, 72 Stat. 563; Public Law 85-865, 72 Stat. 1605; Public Law 86-468, 74 Stat. 131, 132; Public Law 86-545, 74 Stat. 254; Public Law 87-170, 75 Stat. 408; Public Law 87-703, 76 Stat. 608; Public Law 89-337, 79 Stat. 1300; Public Law 90-361, 82 Stat. 250; Public Law 92-419, 86 Stat. 667; Public Law 97-98, 95 Stat. 1213; Public Law 99-662, 100 Stat. 4196; Public Law 101-624, 104 Stat. 3359; Public Law 106-472, 114 Stat. 2077; Public Law 107-171, 116 Stat. 274; Public Law 109-171, 120 Stat. 4.

Range of Approval/Disapproval Time

Receipt of request is acknowledged when received by the State Conservationist.


Not applicable.


Not applicable.

Assistance Considerations

Formula and Matching Requirements

Each cooperating agency is to fund its own participation. The extent of participation and funding are to be defined in a plan of work that establishes the basis for the study effort.

Length and Time Phasing of Assistance

The length of the study is defined in the plan of work. It is subject to some modification, depending on the availability of funds to each of the cooperating agencies. Federal assistance for planning is provided as rapidly as possible depending on availability of funds and personnel resources. Sponsors are encouraged to focus their studies on a limited number of critical problems of special concern nationally, such as flood damage reduction, erosion control, water conservation, preservation of wetlands, and water quality improvement. Short duration, low cost studies that support ongoing State and local programs are encouraged.

Post Assistance Requirements


Interim reports may be prepared during the study.

Final reports are prepared at the completion of each study.

Post study assistance may be provided through the operations phase of this program (see program no.



Not applicable.


Not applicable.

Financial Information

Account Identification



(Salaries and expenses) FY 07 $6,056,100; FY 08 est $0; and FY 09 est not reported.

Range and Average of Financial Assistance

Not applicable.

Regulations, Guidelines, and Literature

Regulations for the program are found in 7 CFR 621 and 622. Guidelines and policy is contained in the National Watersheds Manual (NWSM), National Basin and Area Planning Manual (NRBM), and NRCS General Manual (GM) 150-Basin and Area Planning, Part 401. Literature available through the NRCS include "What the Natural Resources Conservation Service Does," SCS-CI-3; "Local- State-Federal Watershed Projects," SCS-CI-4; "Multiple-Purpose Watershed Projects," PA-575.

Information Contacts

Regional or Local Office

For list of NRCS State offices with telephone numbers and addresses, see Appendix IV of the Catalog.

Headquarters Office

Conservation Planning and Technical Assistance Division, Conservation and Watershed Planning Branch, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Department of Agriculture, P.O. Box 2890, Washington, DC 20013. Telephone: (202) 690-1588.

Criteria for Selecting Proposals

Proposals are selected based on completion in a timely manner, cost effectiveness, production of a deliverable, and merit.

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